Social skills in kindergarten linked to positive outcomes in adulthood

A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health reports a link between children’s social skills in kindergarten (which most children in the US attend when they are age 5/6) and their well-being in early adulthood.

Data for the study came from the longitudinal Fast Track project, an intervention designed to reduce aggression in children identified as high risk for long-term behavioural problems and conduct disorders. As part of Fast Track, nearly 800 children were evaluated by their teachers on a range of social behaviours, such as whether they resolve peer problems, listen to others, and share materials. Each child received a composite score representing his or her overall level of positive social skills/behaviour on a scale from 0 (“not at all”) to 4 (“very well”). Using a variety of data sources, researchers monitored these children and their life events, both positive (eg, obtaining a high school diploma) and negative (eg, getting a criminal record), until they turned 25.

Findings showed that for every one-point increase in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she was:

  • Twice as likely to attain a college degree in early adulthood;
  • 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma; and
  • 46% more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25.

For every one-point decrease in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she had:

  • 64% higher chance of having spent time in juvenile detention;
  • 67% higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood; and
  • 52% higher rate of recent binge drinking and 82% higher rate of recent marijuana use.

In conclusion, the authors say, “Our results suggest that perceived early social competence at least serves as a marker for important long-term outcomes and at most is instrumental in influencing other developmental factors that collectively affect the life course. Evaluating such characteristics in children could be important in planning interventions and curricula to improve these social competencies.”

Source: Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness (2015), American Journal of Public Health.